Workforce shortages jeopardising patient safety, damning mental health report finds

A report, published by The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman highlights the affects workforce shortages in mental healthcare are having on patients

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has issued a damning report on the ‘harrowing impact’ failings in mental healthcare are having on patients.

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The report, Maintaining momentum: driving improvements in mental health care, says staff lack the capacity, skills and training they need to do their jobs effectively, and do not always learn from their mistakes.

It is based on an analysis of 200 mental health complaints upheld by ombudsman Rob Behrens over a three and a half year period.

Mr Behrens said: ‘This report shows the harrowing impact that failings in mental healthcare can have on patients and their families. Too many patients are not being treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and this is further compounded by poor complaint handling.’

Catherine Gamble
Picture: Barney Newman

'Jeopardising patient care'

The report states that workforce shortages in NHS mental health service are ‘jeopardising’ patient care and safety, and warns that plans to transform mental health care might not be realised without action to address staff shortages in services. Almost one in ten posts in specialist mental health services in England are vacant.

RCN professional lead for mental health Catherine Gamble said the report makes upsetting reading for patients and staff.

‘People become mental health nurses because they want to make a difference and help patients and their families recover from mental illness,’ Ms Gamble said.

‘But funding for mental health services is increasing at a far slower rate than for physical health services, and the number of mental health nurses has dropped by 15% since 2010. Services in some areas are being stretched to breaking point, which is leading to the sort of failings described so distressingly in the report.’

Sean Duggan
Picture: Neil O'Connor

On a positive note

Mental Health Network chief executive Sean Duggan said: ‘It is never easy to hear of serious failings in patient care, but it must be recognised that many of the report’s findings predate the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health – meaning action is already being taken.

'We are pleased the report acknowledges the many positive steps already being taken to improve patients’ experience.’

Rethink Mental Illness director of external affairs Brian Dow added: ‘These findings underline the desperate need for reform and the sometimes devastating consequences of a struggling system.

'We do now have a blueprint for change, but this will need drive and funding to achieve its aims, or we will continue to hear stories like these.’

The report highlighted five common failings in complaints from patients and family members:

  • Failure to diagnose and/or treat the patient.
  • Inappropriate hospital discharge and aftercare of the patient.
  • Poor risk assessment and safety practices.
  • Not treating patients with dignity and/or infringing their human rights.
  • Poor communication with the patient and/or their family or carers.


Read the report

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